On Saturday, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il made like untold hundreds of thousands of people in the country he immiserated over the course of his 17-year reign and died. To most of the rest of the world, he was a simultaneously clownish and sinister figure who enriched himself as the apex of a pyramid of Orwellian oppression and deprivation. Yet the spectacle of many of his former subjects abasing themselves with public grief over his passing is already making the meme rounds.
For comics readers, nothing can explain this paradoxical phenomenon better than Guy Delisle’s masterful travelogue Pyongyang, an account of the cartoonist’s time working at a North Korean animation studio. Publisher Drawn and Quarterly has posted a passage from the book that gives a sense of just how pervasive and intrusive a presence the Dear Leader was in the lives of North Koreans, with his face, name, and mostly bogus backstory visible in some way nearly everywhere you looked. Check out the excerpt, then do yourself a favor and make Pyongyang a last-minute stocking stuffer for yourself: It filters the totalitarian politics of North Korea and the controversy surrounding how best to handle it through a uniquely personal lens, and as an introduction to how the country works it’s tough to top.